Green design

Sustainability 101

Michael Lucas Monterey

Don’t go numb. Keep thinking, caring, and be crafty when it comes to your impact .

Five of the basic factors affecting the fate of civilizations were revealed in Dr. Jared Diamond’s best-selling book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Those five crucial choices are:

  1. Environmental impact
  2. Climate change
  3. Neighbouring allies and enemies
  4. Loss and gain of trading partners
  5. Society’s responses to all the above

All the choices, causes, and effects are interactive. All the factors relate to use of our brains, for better or worse. The failed empires of the past shared terminal defects, misconceptions, and misunderstandings in common, misuse of inner and outer resources and too many missed opportunities.

My practice and research over the past decade has revealed two prerequisites* that foster all other determinants of cultural health and longevity. Here are seven essentials of sustainable success:

  1. * A viable paradigm, for a sane, life sustaining set of values and basic ideas and ideals
  2. * Loving respect for nature and humanity, sustaining commitment to the joy and wellness of children, elders, great spiritual leaders and wise guardians
  3. Green awareness and empathy, compassionate sensitivity to environmental conditions, fostering the best possible quality of life for all generations
  4. Consciousness of climate change, with active commitment to eliminating or reducing its severity and rapidity
  5. Sustainable peace, positive relations with neighbours, allies and enemies alike, fostering Win-Win strategies and dialogue
  6. Thriving with ongoing upgrading of policies, laws, institutions, and enterprises that foster healthy innovation, resilience, and diversity, supporting positive dialogue and interaction with allies and competitors, minimizing hostility and harm
  7. Positive responses to whatever challenges sustainably healthy success

We, the people, decide to rise or fall. With healthy values and abiding commitment to a lively culture and general well-being, success can grow out of near disaster. Without sane basic values and attitudes, how can we sustain effective concern for the wellness of children, elders, and humanity as a whole? Success depends on wise choices that depend on good values and good ideas. Is the global Consumer Society choosing to succeed?

The Chinese will double the area of their built environment by 2030, about 18 building seasons from now. With population and economic growth rates of India close to China’s and the rest of the “Third World” catching up fast, that means doubling the amount of human habitat built over the last 5,000 years in just over 200 months! That could double or triple the use of bricks, concrete, and pavement. That means doubling or tripling the amount of carbon released in the production and use of bricks, cement, concrete, and pavement. Bricks and mortar account for over 80 billion pounds of CO2 annually, while the carbon dioxide (CO2) released by production of concrete equals from 1 to 10 times the weight of concrete itself. That means from 81.6 billion to more than 96 billion pounds of extra CO2 pollution, yearly. Related processes and construction operations produce billions of tons of other greenhouse gases (GHG), many at dangerous levels in the food chain already.

The methane frozen under the ocean floor and virtually locked in millions of square miles of melting arctic tundra can be unleashed by more global warming. Methane (over 22 times more potent than CO2) can start runaway global super-heating, killing most ocean life with excess acidity, plus acid-rain strong enough to wipe out most land animals and plants for a million years.

Tar sand and oil shale mining and conversion (to low grade fuel oil and gasoline) are neither affordable nor green. They pollute the air, waters, and soil. Increased burning of fuel for transportation and power would release huge amounts of CO2 and GHGs. The melting Arctic ice-cap, protects 30% of Earth’s oil, but not for long.

Superior green concrete and unfired masonry alternatives to bricks — with only a tiny fraction of the negative impact of ungreen concrete and bricks — have existed for nearly 10,000 years. The best green design and new materials are better, but virtually suppressed while bioneer inventors go begging or broke.

With full scale energy efficiency upgrades, solar panels over rooftops and parking lots will produce more than enough electricity for all our future needs. Optimal design, ultragreen building materials, and new construction systems can radically reduce GHG emissions over the next 18 years, but the 7 billion of us will become 9 billion hungry, energy junkies.

So, Biochar, the focus of this issue of CRAFT, and all the other relatively clean ways to keep carbon out of the sky are critically important now. Some new materials are perfect for green buildings that can stand for 10,000 years or more, but replacing all, or even most, of our anti-green materials will take time. This is a race against time, and it may be later then we think. Not changing our ways and not preparing for the future would be disastrous. We need to demand the greenest materials available to maximize our sustainability, and Biochar is here now. You can use Biochar in many ways – make it, sell it, use it in the garden, to purify water, absorb smells and much more, all the while sequestering carbon, reducing your impact and enhancing the future quality of life.

Our most important choice is a classic no-brainer, but many politicians, business owners, and stock holders are failing Sustainability 101. Careless insanity will create worst case results. Sanity and the best green design will produce the best results, the healthiest, happiest, brightest future for all generations.

Michael Lucas Monterey

Michael Lucas Monterey

© 2011 Michael Lucas Monterey

Michael Lucas Monterey, is an ecotect, green designer, multidisciplinary scientist, artist and writer. Monterey’s training in the fine arts and design began in 1952, at age four. In the mid-70s he studied the works of Paolo Soleri. Monterey then began research and development of ecotecture, neo-primitive design-build techniques, as well as new green technologies, sustainable community planning, and evolutionary social theory. Michael started experiments with his Ultradobe and Ultracrete building materials in 2003, and then, in 2005, invented a natural, nontoxic, fire-proof, foam insulation. In response to the ongoing destruction of the building industry, the economy, and culture, Monterey began work on a sustainability solutions resource text. The Greenbook provides green policy directives embodying the essence of his accumulated knowledge, planning strategy, ways and means for greening the world. He is also working to co-found new alliances and institutions for implementing a real solution for sustainable culture. Michael Monterey lives in Seattle, Washington, providing green design, planning, consulting and innovative solutions for personal and global sustainability. He may be reached by phone at 760 500 6171 or email: or

Editors Note: Readers Michael will be contributing to our regular Green Design column reflecting on some of the deeper design issues of our particular volume themes. He welcomes your contact.

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